On July 15, farmers and ranchers gathered with indigenous land users on the farm of farmer Mary Smillie in Bladworth, Sask., to launch the newly formed Treaty Land Sharing Network.
The morning started with a pipe ceremony, a bannock social provided by the office of the Treaty Commissioner, and then proceeded to sharing circles, said Smillie.
“We had too many people to do one sharing circle. I think we had about 80 people there today,” said Smillie. We did two sharing circles, where we asked people to share who they were, where they're from, and what interests they had in the treaty, land sharing network, what spoke to their interests. And so those are always beautiful. They're the best part of humanity because we're hearing from indigenous voices and non indigenous voices that we come together in a good way to share land.”
After these circles and the associated press conference, the first of many signs was put up on the farm, which signals to indigenous land users that they can access the land.
“If you were indigenous land user, and you saw one of these signs, there would be a phone number on it that you could call to make sure that this is safe today,” said Smillie. “Be sure there's no electric wires for cattle or whatever. They can make that phone call or not make that phone call, that would be fine. But the signs invite indigenous land users to come walk on the land, gather medicines, or hunt or, or gather berries or hold ceremonies The other option is like in my rural area, indigenous land users may have a hard time finding the signs because they're off the beaten track, So the other option is to go to our website, treatylandsharingnetwork.ca, and in behind the website is the directory of the current land available through the Treaty Land Sharing Network.”
Landowners interested in becoming a part of the Treaty Land Sharing Network can also visit the site to learn about the principles behind the network and how to get a sign of their own to start sharing their land.
“The other thing that I think is really important is that when people sign on to share their land, they also are agreeing to continuously learn, or unlearn some bad habits and learn some new habits in terms of relating well with indigenous friends and neighbors,” said Smillie. “We are committed to continuously learning. Over the winter months, we hosted a book club around the book Braiding Sweetgrass which is a beautiful book about how indigenous ways of knowing and science have lots to complement one another. We've had the Office of the treaty Commissioners host some zoom events, for ongoing learning about our relationship in the treaty.”
This launch has been planned for some time, said Smillie, though it was delayed due to COVID-19 and the restrictions regarding gatherings. She had joined the committee a few years prior after attending a reconciliation committee conference.
Smillie believes that, in time, there may be so many of these signs denoting land sharing across Alberta and Saskatchewan that ultimately no signs will be needed.
“Our cultural beliefs are really habits of thinking and habits of communicating. And those habits can change,” said Smillie. “Usually, the thing that changes them is new knowledge or new understanding or even just recognizing that the habit that you had before. You really have to challenge yourself and say, Well, what do I know for sure. And, and when you open up to possibly changing your habit of thinking, your habit of communicating, it helps change your habits of decision making. And I think that this is the opportunity that we have today. We are all Treaty People, after all.”